Tomorrow's Best Work Today


5 min read
24 Nov
24Nov

Andy Swann is the author of 'The Human Workplace' and we met when he was writing that book. His interest in modern workplaces included diversity and inclusion, which is why he came to speak with me when I was doing lots of work implementing D&I change at the BBC. To begin our conversation I invited Andy to introduce himself, say what he's currently doing and describe his career background. 'In my day job, I run a company called My Amazing Team, which has two parts. We have a part called MAT Studios, which is an innovation consultancy for want of a better term. Then we have Elevate Labs, which is a creative and tech hub that really looks at how to create experiences that connect people with each other and with brands and other things like that. I've always had this fascination around the relationship between people, organisations and work, what works well and what doesn't. So I do a lot of speaking and writing, and occasionally run an event called All About People. 'The Human Workplace' was the culmination of those things in my journey over fifteen years. I'd become increasingly interested in what enabled people to do good work and what blocked it. My career background influenced that interest. I had a couple of stints with starting things: a music magazine and a tech start-up. I also worked for the NHS as a mid-level manager where I ran and modernised medical records departments at some famous hospitals. It was there I started understanding how bureaucracy and over-complicating things stop people from being able to achieve the work they wanted to do. I also saw the difference between what a 2% performance increase looks like on a spreadsheet and what it means for the people who are out there trying to do that work. I carried that forward when I inherited a family recruitment company. I added to that how organisations bring people in, what they do, how that relationship forms while they're there and what happens when they leave. I then moved on to employee engagement, organisational culture, and the environment you create for people. I ended up running change management programs for BDG, a workplace design company. It was all of these things that came together and culminated in The Human Workplace. The idea is that we mostly think, speak and work in siloed ways. HR talks one thing, organisational development does another, workplace design does another, facilities, etc. If we can bring all these things together and understand that when people thrive, the organisation thrives too. Providing a blueprint for creating that, helps people work through a framework that allows them to create the right human workplace for their organisation.' What I like about Andy's book is that it's a practical, well-structured book for business managers. The first section is called 'Getting to Grips with the Basics'. I asked Andy what that section covers? 'Professionally we all get bogged down in complications sometimes. The larger an organisation is the more layers and layers of complexity they have that can block things from happening. I think the organisation is the structure that enables the business to go out and achieve what it wants to do. If you step back and separate those two things and start looking at organisations as structures for achieving a business aim, you can start seeing it in a different way with a simpler perspective. Start with the basics. Take a step back. Look at your organisation; why it exists; what it exists for, and what it needs to achieve to succeed. When people thrive, organisations thrive too.' It's a great start to the book. When I start working with my clients, I often go through the basics with them repositioning diversity and inclusion with the organisation's vision, mission and values. Before taking a deep dive into the diversity and inclusion side of things, I asked Andy what other key principles does he cover in his book from a general human workplace perspective? 'I could have grabbed examples of a million start-ups where there are five people wearing hoodies doing cool things and talked about how easy it was for them to connect, communicate, to adapt and be agile. But what I want us to do is understand what happens when you've got complexity, what happens when you're in a global organisation or you have hundreds or thousands of employees? How can you enable individuals, teams, departments, units? How can you enable them, but also bring them together? Every organisation has a wealth of skills, expertise, knowledge, and perspective in every single person they have. Traditionally people get their job description. This is the part they play and the understanding is don't go over and above that. Just do that. Come in at 9 o'clock, go home at 5 o'clock, and that's that. The book tried to break down some of those walls and look at the organisation as a much bigger pool of potential. If all these people are there because they want to contribute how can you enable them to contribute in the best way? Around 87% of the global workforce is disengaged in its work. I was reading some stats yesterday about people looking for work now which said 87% of people are either actively or passively looking for new roles. So if only 13% of your workforce wants to be there, is engaged and able to contribute, that's a huge amount of missed potential for your organisation. I asked how can you tap into that amazing potential in all of the people that are there. Just because 'Sheila' works in accounts, that doesn't mean that accounts are all she can do. At the weekend, she may be taking amazing photographs. Skills that the marketing department could hugely benefit from. The human workplace is about how we enable humans. Although we hear a lot about the future of work being robots taking over jobs, it also involves how the right technology and communications are in place to enable humans to do what they're best at.' I asked Andy about his research for his book. He spoke to diversity and inclusion specialists and I wondered what he found out? 'I discovered many organisations still see diversity and inclusion as an add-on. They're told that they should be better at it, so they go and do it, not because they truly believe in it, but just because it's a tick box exercise. I like to flip that. Instead of saying, "Here's why you should do it." I actually say to them, "It's so ridiculous for you to not be doing it, what's your excuse?" My argument is always, "How does optimum diversity and inclusion impact your bottom line?" In 2020, everyone has suddenly had to innovate and change the way they worked, or the way their business ran, or the way their company was structured. It's happened quickly. When you need to innovate, you need to think creatively. Step back from there and say, "Every organisation needs to innovate. Those that do it best are those who succeed the most." To innovate, you have to have great ideas. Great ideas come from creativity. Great creativity comes from a diversity of perspectives. The more diverse your workforce, in whatever way you look at that diversity, the greater number of potential perspectives that you can bring together. I call it "Absolute diversity" which is essential for the success of any organisation. It's the true path to innovation and creating the future. With inclusion, if people can't contribute, they could have all the knowledge, the expertise and perspective in the world, but if they're not part of that conversation, the organisation misses out on a huge amount of innovation potential. That's innovation, which leads to a future impact on the bottom line. That's what I discovered. I spoke to amazing people like you, Toby, who were pushing the boundaries in organisations and moving them in that direction. There's still a long way to go. It's very easy for buyers to come in, or found a start-up company and recruit photocopies of themselves again and again. Or you have an entire sales department full of alpha white males which loses a lot of potential for creativity and innovation towards the bottom line.' Companies that are in their start-up or scale-up phase of their growth, are so busy and stretched, that when they start professionalising the way that they operate as a business certain things creep in. Putting an official recruitment process in place, for example, which adopts the bias of the founders. Or managers promoted internally that don't have the right skills or competencies to be inclusive managers. It's important for businesses at that stage of their development to think seriously about diversity and inclusion because I can guarantee it will bite them in the arse later on when they get bigger. 'Absolutely. There seems to be this magic number of around 50 people in an organisation where, up to about 50, everybody can know everyone else's name and pretty much fit in a room. Once you get over 50, that's where the complexity starts coming in. Processes that add an inhuman layer to everything, because all of a sudden you have these layers of management. The most junior person can't just walk up to the CEO and have a conversation and say, "Here's what I've noticed, here's what we should be doing." Like you say, these things creep in and put barriers up to full human enablement and participation.' I asked Andy if he had found any examples of good practice and advanced thinking in the organisations he researched for his book? ‘There was no organisation on the planet that I've found where I'd say, "This is exactly how it should be done." Every organisation does it in its own way. The things that I found most impactful were where people were being empowered from the inside to have ideas and to take responsibility to be the change they wanted to see. Schneider Electric is a great example. They run a really interesting global wellbeing programme for all their global employees. It's almost a global strategy, with local delivery. It empowers local teams to deliver it. That means whether it's around recruitment or how they set up their workplace, they can be much more culturally sensitive or much more responsive to the needs of the people within their team. You see this manifest in different ways through their global locations. Although the spirit is still the same, the way it's executed locally is different and very powerful. That was a big standout for me.' Because this is the Inclusive Growth Show, I asked Andy for his thoughts about what inclusive growth means? 'I really like this question. I've been thinking about it for a while. For me, inclusive is about enabling people. Anything you do, you just have to stand back and go, "Okay, how could this be simpler? How can we make it better? How can it be more human?" Because everything the organisation does should be about enabling everybody in that organisation, regardless of their needs, regardless of who they are or what they do and their approach. Enable them to be able to contribute in the best possible way on any given day, and respect the fact that some days you're able to contribute more than others. That kind of structure of nine to five Monday to Friday doesn't fit everyone, and does that, just because they can't work well, nine to five Monday to Friday, does that mean they can't work well every day? Absolutely not. I call it freedom within parameters. Look at the absolute parameters of your business. Say for example you have a manufacturing machine that has to run in a certain location at certain times, or you have to be on the phone to answer client calls at certain times, those are parameters that you can't avoid in your business. But start with complete freedom and then add in only the parameters. Don't start with huge complexity and then try and add back in freedom because actually, you need to create a platform for people to thrive, and we talk about platforms a lot in this modern age. We all use platforms every day, whether you use social media or any of these other things. This kind of terminology of platforms makes sense to people now. We're starting down that road to look at organisations in that way. Instead of the CEO being this kind of person in a big glass office that everybody is too scared to talk to, it's turning around and the CEO's job is now becoming almost a servant to the organisation. How can I enable all of these people to do their best possible work on any given day? If everyone can collaborate and communicate, and if we have that diversity of perspective then greatness will come from the organisation. I think the word "Growth" is an important one here. Traditionally, when you hear the word growth from a business perspective, it's about growing profits, growing revenue, and all of these things. Something we've been seeing for a few years, and particularly in 2020, is this idea of human growth. How can I be the best person I can be? How can I contribute the best, and how can the organisation best serve its people? This idea of growth as progress, not just growth as in scaling in size or growth as development is an interesting idea. The other great message about inclusive growth is to do it in your own way. Your organisation is a unique group of people doing unique things that no other organisation is doing exactly the same way. Sitting back and going, "Oh, Google has done this, so we'll do this, or this company has done this therefore it means it's how we should set up our company." It won't work. Take inspiration from case studies but actually create your own version of inclusive growth based on the aims of your organisation and your business. That's the essence of it.' To get hold of Andy's book search for 'The Human Workplace' by Andy Swann on Amazon. To get in touch you can find him on Twitter @AndySwann or visit his website andyswann.io or visit Andy's LinkedIn.